Introducing Maita Espinosa! She is a pastry chef extraordinaire and has recently launched her cookie business. We couldn’t be happier that she did, here is what she had to say during the interview:
Tell us a little about your background: While I was studying culinary at Ducasse Institute in Manila, Philippines, I was sent for my internship to Paris for 6 months. This is where I learned pastries. When I went back to the Philippines, I applied to Nobu as they were opening a location there. They hired me as a pastry chef and started as a commi. Since a team of chefs were sent there from Miami’s location, the head pastry chef trained me. He later invited me to work in Miami on a J1 Visa. That’s when it all began really. After the visa expired, I went back to the Philippines and started a little pastry business. I would bake cupcakes, cakes, cookies, a variety of things. In 2016 I came back to Nobu Miami, this time with a new chef in the pastry department. I did everything with the team, I learned more and more. Then I decided to resign from Nobu just recently before the pandemic.
When and why a cookie business? During quarantine I decided to start the cookie business because, I saw a target market here. People love cookies in America, it is something big here. So this is when Cookies by M.E was born!
Describe your cookie…… I love cookies. I don’t like dry and flat cookies, this is the reason my cookies are chunky. They have a crispy edge but inside it’s soft and chewy. When I was researching and experimenting with my recipe, I wanted to achieve that – chunky, crispy, soft and chewy. I had people try it and the response was really positive. So I guessed it was going to sell, this was going to work!
What is your favorite flavor combination? Honestly, I’m a very simple person. Even with flavors I always stick to the classics. My favorite cookie is the Chunky Chocolate Chewy, my take on the classic chocolate chip.
What is in the near future for Cookies by M.E? Right now, it’s an online cookie shop. Hopefully, when things get better (from the pandemic) we will open a little spot. Not sure where yet but, of course in Miami. The vision of the company is that we will stick to the basics. We like everything natural. I won’t use ingredients that have a lot of preservatives. Especially butter, I am very specific with that. I want my cookies with butter, real butter! We will expand the menu, when we have the store. As an experiment we are offering bread currently, and it’s selling a lot. We are still building a brand so I’m not sure if offering both right now is a good idea. The cookies are the main focus at the moment, but yes, in the future we will incorporate more baked goods. I do want to share with you that we will be incorporating some new flavors soon – Latin flavors (because we are in Miami) and slowly incorporating Philippino flavors, just because I want my culture to be a part of what I’m doing.
Do you have a cookie guru? My mom. She’s a medical doctor but, she would bake in her free time. My siblings and I grew up helping her make baked goods especially during the holidays. She also used to bake cookies and her recipes are one of the main reasons that inspired me to pursue a cookie business.
How do you integrate the recipe to convert to a vegan recipe? The recipe is totally different and the end product is different. Instead of butter I use coconut oil and coconut milk. Even the chocolate chip is vegan. It’s gluten free so also I substitute the all purpose flour with gluten free flour. The recipe is not the same, it’s not just something that is converted from the regular recipe. We have one chocolate chip cookie and it’s sprinkled with sea salt.
What would you share with a person who wants to leap into their own business? You need patience and determination and your passion should really be that (your product), because if not, then it won’t work. You really have to work hard – for anything. You got to love what you do. It is very tiring but at the end of the day the feeling of fulfillment – is wow! It doesn’t matter if you sell a dozen today, but it’s the positive feedback from the customers and how you see your business grow everyday, that’s what makes it worth it and makes you feel happy.
What are the biggest beginner mistakes when baking cookies? Temperature is one – if you’re not used a specific oven getting the right temperature can be difficult, the cookies won’t come out the same. Every oven is different. Working in the restaurant we work with a convection oven, but at home the temperature has to be higher. Measuring is second – if you don’t measure your ingredients properly, because in pastry you have to be precise. Let me tell you one thing; the kind of sugar you use and chilling time makes a difference. You see some cookies are really flat, I think the reason why that happens is they roll the dough from mixing and put it straight in the oven. That makes the dough spread because the butter is not intact. So, if you want a chunky cookie you have to chill the dough first. And the sugar has a lot to do with it because let’s say you use dark brown sugar; it has a lot of molasses content as opposed to light brown sugar or granulated sugar. I mix my sugars too!
If you weren’t a pastry chef what would you be doing? Honestly, I was tossing between being a psychologist and pastry chef. Because you know, people who are depressed they eat cookies then they’re like ‘oh, I’m happy now” hahaha.
Where can people order your cookies? We have a website, they can order from there or through the bio link on Instagram.
photos: Alessa Delgado